Animated video production: a step-by-step guide.

Animation is an effective storytelling tool. Here’s what it takes to make high-quality professional animation, whether it’s a short online video, a marketing video, or even a short film.

The appeal of animation.

Animation is powerful. It can do what’s nearly impossible in live action. Animated explainer videos can show you the interior of a complex machine with camera angles that would be impossible in the real world. Whiteboard animation can illustrate complex ideas with simple lines. Animated science videos can take you inside a volcano or into the deep reaches of space, and animated tutorials and motion graphics can turn complex topics into fun visuals. This is a look at what goes into animation and what the basic steps of video creation are.

 

Scripts, storyboards, and animatics.

Before professional video creators animate a single frame, they go through a thorough planning process.

 

Script and planning

Professional video production starts with a concept. “It all has to start with an idea,” says motion designer Griffen Snow. While that’s true of everything, it’s especially essential with animation where every second and half second is the result of careful planning and, sometimes, hours of work. Once you establish what you want to say, you can figure out how to say it.

 

Before you sketch a character or record a vocal track, you need a script. Identify the main ideas of the story you’re trying to tell, whether it’s marketers who want to sell an app or experts that need to explain an idea. Nail down the story beats and identify what kind of assets you’re going to need. What animation tools are you going to require? Will you use animated characters or infographics? Are you going to use stock video? Decide all of that early on.

 

Revise, get feedback, and revise again. Professional video usually requires approval from several parties. Make sure all of your stakeholders sign off on the final version before you get too deep into the next steps. If you need to run your script through fact-checkers or a legal department, you don’t want to do that more often than you have to.

A collage made up of images of space equipment, space traveling, and planets

Style frames

After the script is done, work on how you’ll incorporate visuals into your videos. You might have existing assets or branding for the video, or animators and designers might make entirely new visuals for the video. In either case, style frames illustrate the look and feel of the video. They’re generally in color and can be very similar to concept art in how they provide creators and stakeholders a common idea of what the animation team will work toward.

 

Storyboards

A storyboard is a mix of the script and visuals. It usually looks a bit like a comic book. A director syncs the script with specific shots or other visual elements that they want in the final cut. Storyboards serve as guides and templates for later shots, and they’re helpful references when it comes time to edit videos.

 

The visuals in a storyboard don’t need to look polished. They can be stick figures, blocky sketches, or simple drawings. What’s important is that it gives everyone involved with the video an idea of how each shot is composed, how one shot will flow into another, and what the basic story beats are.

 

Animatics and scratch tracks

An animatic, sometimes called a boardomatic, is like an animated version of the storyboard. All of the shots are edited together and put to a rough audio track known as a scratch track. A scratch track is essentially a storyboard for the script; someone reads through the script over the storyboard.

 

The process gives animators and directors an idea of how to time animations with voice-overs or dialogue — and an even better sense of the flow and feel of the eventual asset.

Once you have an idea of general timing, take the opportunity to trim and tighten up elements that might be a bit too long or lose the viewer. “You’re always fighting against people’s attention spans, especially now,” says Snow. “I like to do 90 seconds max for a video. And you have to pull people in within the first six seconds.”

 

Sound, animation, and post-production.

After your planning stages are complete you can begin work on dialogue, animation, and other elements your viewers will see and hear. This can require work in several different apps, like voice recording in Adobe Audition, and adding visual elements in Adobe After Effects.

 

Voice-overs

You’ll usually want to record voice-overs before you start on animation. A scratch track can give you a general idea of how long each scene or section of script will be, but a voice-over will give animators the exact amount of time they have to work with. Record the dialogue you plan to use prior to animation, and then let skilled animators sync the action to the spoken audio.

 

Animation

Animation is a complicated process that includes a wide array of styles and types. It includes everything from the stop-motion effects of old Hollywood to computer-generated 3D animation.

 

Vector animation is one of the most accessible forms of animation for new animators — a popular form of online animation and a good way to get started with your first video. This guide to vector animation in Adobe Animate will walk you through the basics of how to turn a sketch or other still image into an animated video.

Image of animating an alien character in Adobe Character Animator

Animation is always evolving. Motion capture and rotoscoping (where animators draw over live footage) have been a part of the industry for decades. Now, animators can go to the next level with animation software, and turn a performer’s movements into an animated character’s in real time. As an actor moves and speaks, the character does as well — it mirrors the performance like a puppet. This guide walks you through how to turn a live performance into animation with Adobe Character Animator, translating human movements into a character’s.

 

Regardless of the type you use, you’ll want to stay organized. “Name your layers,” says Snow. “Make sure your left hand is named ‘left hand,’ for instance.” Once you have the foundational animation done, work on elements like lighting, texture, and other visual details. Make everything look its best as you move into the final stages.

 

Video editing, motion graphics, and post-production

After your animation is squared away, add on-screen graphics, lower thirds, and other video effects with After Effects. Then combine all the elements together, like sound effects or music tracks, in Adobe Premiere Pro. At the end of all of it, check to make sure that the audio tracks are mixed appropriately and that all of the sound assets complement and work with the visual ones.

 

Tell your story with animation.

Animation is a combination of many different disciplines that range from design to voice acting to audio editing. High-quality videos are the result of a large team of creative professionals. Each one does their job well as they all work toward the same overall goal. Video animation can be a long process, but it’s ultimately a rewarding one, and it connects to viewers in ways that few other mediums can.

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